Race Report: Niki Terpstra continued his magnificent spring with yet another solo masterclass to take his first Tour of Flanders victory. The flying Dutchman took advantage of the might of the Quick-Step Floors squad – knowing he had heavyweight hitters watching behind, Terpstra took his chance heading for the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. He countered an attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), mixing things beautifully in his Flanders debut, but the Italian lacked the firepower to follow.
Once Terpstra blasted past the last surviving breakaway, it was a spittle-chinned personal time trial to the line. He built a lead and never looked like he’d lose it, hammering blissfully through every corner.
While Terpstra’s ride was immense, so was the performance of Danish champion Mads Pedersen who hung on in no-man’s-land to take a fantastic, breakthrough second place ahead of Philippe Gilbert.
In many ways, it was an odd race … it took almost an hour-and-a-half for a breakaway to form. With the sub-text of Quick-Step Floors turning up with basically a whole team who could win, it was obvious that the other riders knew they’d have a huge task to derail the Belgian juggernaut. And despite numerous attempts to shape the race, the other contenders seemed resigned, Peter Sagan simply unwilling to make any further efforts to close the gaps.
How it unfolded
A few early escape attempts and high stress levels made for a nervy start; Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First p/b Drapac) was caught up in a crash (the first of at least three tumbles) and needed help to overcome a mechanical. It eventually took 70 kilometers before a break could get away.
Approaching the Oude Kwaremont for the first time, the lead had been allowed to go out to five minutes and the brave souls facing the rain and cold temperatures were: Katusha-Alpecin’s Marco Haller; Pim Ligthart from Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij; Michael Goolaerts for Veranda’s Willems-Crelan; Jimmy Turgis (Cofidis); Filippo Ganna (UAE Team Emirates); Bahrain-Merida’s Ivan Garcia Cortina; Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto NL-Jumbo); Dimension Data’s Ryan Gibbons; Aimé De Gendt from Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise; and WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic’s Dimitri Peyskens.
Inside 100kms to go, and another big crash en route to the Kapelmuur toppled the already-injured Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and caused some fractures in the main field as the lead to the escape gradually eroded.
72 kilometers to go / Kanarieberg: The road was open to the wind leading in to the Kanarieberg, and suddenly Quick-Step Floors hit the front and slammed the accelerator down. Coming just after the feedzone, it meant agony for the weaker riders. It also meant that the early escape was done after 100 kilometers of freedom.
Tom Devriendt (Wanty Groupe-Gobert) and Bahrain’s Ivan Garcia pushed on and lead by 1’09” with 69 kms left.
60 kilometers to go: The escapees had 1’20” on the peloton (with the remains of the early break somewhere in between), and all the big names (Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet, Vincenzo Nibali, etc.) were safely tucked in as the riders switched back and fore across the road leading in to the beastly Oude Kwaremont.
Another huge crash and Mitch Docker ended up tangled in the barbed wire. Off the front of the main field, Nils Pollitt (Katusha-Alpecin) pushed on to try and bridge up to the two leaders. Lampaert (Quick-Step) lit things up and suddenly gaps started yawning open in the main field, but Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) looked cool and composed with Michelton-Scott’s Matteo Trentin glued to his wheel.
52 kilometers to go / Paterberg: the two leaders looked good but the lead was falling as Team Sky hammered onto the climb. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) got up to Devriendt and Garcia as their lead fell to 15”. Just moments later they got picked up by Sky’s Dylan Van Baarle, Astana’s Magnus Cort Nielsen and EF’s Sebastian Langeveld. Sky’s Luke Rowe managed to get himself disqualified for riding on the bike path – it looked pretty harsh as the fans were on the road and he had nowhere to go.
46 kilometers to go / Koppenberg: the maximum 22% gradient took another chunk out of the legs as the main peloton started to thin out a bit more. Halfway down the main field … someone unclipped and the whole thing ground to a halt. It looked like Quick-Step got a call on the radio as Niki Terpstra put the pressure on straight away. Off the top, the lead escape broke apart leaving just Pedersen, Van Baarle and Langeveld ahead.
40 kilometers to go / Steenbeekdries: Arnaud Démare from FDJ led the main field as Colbrelli took over knowing Nibali was safely in the elite ‘peloton’ of about 30 riders.
38 kilometers to go / Taaienberg: 41” for the trio ahead, with a maximum gradient of 15.8% allowing Greg Van Avermaet to light things up with Stybar grimacing behind him. GVA had Stybar, Valgren, Sagan, Stuyven, Kristoff, Vanmarcke, Van Aert and Boasson Hagen with him. They opened a little gap before it came back together again … riders took on gels, slugged water, gasped for air (Valgren) as Sagan coasted beside him looking easy.
29 kilometers to go / Kruisberg: the peloton hit the Kruisberg, bunched together, trailing the breakaway by 35”. After Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) launched, Stybar tried again immediately followed by Kwiatkowski, Sagan and Nibali. The Italian decided to push on as the others drifted back to the peloton; Terpstra joined Nibali and the touch-paper was finally lit. The Dutchman got rid of Nibali and lasered in on the lead trio.
19 kilometers to go / Oude Kwaremont: BMC were forced to take up the chase given the make-up of the teams represented ahead. Cort Nielsen (Astana) took off in pursuit of Terpstra who eventually reached the lead trio halfway up and blew straight past. In the main field, Benoot (Lotto Soudal) and Vanmarcke hit the front and drilled the acceleration.
16 kilometers to go: Sagan! The pace in the main field lulled briefly and the Slovak went, with Gilbert and Van Aert getting up to him in a little selection of ten (GVA, Benoot, Van Aert, Valgren, etc). Up front, 40” clear, Terpstra was absolutely creaming it, seeing the chance of a lifetime to take Flanders.
14 kilometers to go / Paterberg: Terpstra ground on, but the young Dane Pedersen had managed to hang within a handful of seconds on the climb. Vanmarcke tried to lift the pace again, but Sagan took over, grimacing for the first time. The Slovak pulled out a little gap and committed to the chase.
Inside ten kilometers to go, and Terpstra was battering away. Sagan was looking over his shoulder as he had failed to make any major inroads in his lone chase.
The elite chase group decided to work, even with the Quick-Step passengers (Gilbert and Stybar) inside eight to go but Terpstra’s lead held steady. Benoot, Van Aert and Naesen were working hard but they were making no impact on the Dutchman. Terpstra had 43” with five kilometers to ride.
Under two to go, Valgren jumped away to chase, with Gilbert hanging on. Terpstra’s lead was fading, but he had time to celebrate a huge win! Pedersen’s brilliant chase secured second as Gilbert jumped Valgren for third ahead of Valgren. GVA won the little group sprint.
Another edition of Flanders in the history books; for Niki Terpstra it was a dream come true. A second monument for his collection, and it wouldn’t be much of surprise to see him double-up in Paris-Roubaix next week… would it?
Tour of Flanders Result:
1. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors in 6:21:25
2. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo at 0:12
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 0:17
4. Michael Valgren (Den) Astana at 0:20
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC at 0:25
6. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
8. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9. Wout Van Aert (Bel) Veranda’s Willems-Crelan
10. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
11. Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R-La Mondiale
12. Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Sky
13. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
14. Timo Roosen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 1:09
15. Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 1:13
16. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
17. Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin
18. Mike Teunissen (Ned) Sunweb
19. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
20. Magnus Cort (Den) Astana
21. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Sky
22. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 1:15
23. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
24. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 1:18
25. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida at 1:24
26. Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe at 3:16.